Hey, y’all. I’m in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the American Wing. Y’all — it’s a moment of rediscovery for this New Orleanian! I’m standing before the once-lost-now-found “Bélizaire and the Frey Children,” a significant artwork that was hidden in the New Orleans Museum of Art’s storage for ages.
🎨 Painted circa 1837 by Jacques Guillaume Lucien Amans, this portrait captures an upper-class New Orleans family before the Civil War and includes Bélizaire, an enslaved Afro-Creole teenager — he was perhaps fifteen year’s old. What’s truly remarkable is Bélizaire’s inclusion in the Frey family portrait — a rare depiction of a person of color in Southern art of that era.
The painting’s history is as haunting as it is fascinating. After the Spanish flu struck, tragically claiming the lives of the three Frey children, Bélizaire’s image was deliberately erased from the painting, likely by a Frey family member. Yet, his presence lingered like a ghostly outline, defying his erasure.
🔍 Thanks to the efforts of historian Katy Morlas Shannon and art collector Jeremy K. Simien, Bélizaire’s story has been uncovered and his image restored. This painting not only offers a glimpse into the complex world of 19th-century New Orleans but also symbolizes resilience against historical erasure.
🖼️ “Bélizaire and the Frey Children” stands as a testament to our complicated history and the enduring spirit of those who were once overlooked. It’s a haunting yet beautiful reminder of our past.